Lesia Oesterreich, M.S.
Family Life Extension Specialist
Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University
Marital separation and divorce can be two of the most difficult events in an adult's life. Much stress comes from three sources:
1. Restructured family life
For most couples with children, a divorce does not mean the end of a family. Instead, it means the family must restructure the way it handles household chores, family finances, parenting roles, and relationships with extended family and friends. This reorganization can create much stress.
Tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and shopping must be managed. Each parent may have to assume tasks formerly shared by two adults, a situation that may feel overwhelming.
Financial arrangements often must be reworked, adding considerably more stress and tension between parents. Finances may become a leading source of anger.
If one parent is the main wage earner and the other the main caretaker, each may have to cover both roles after a divorce. Parents must answer various child care questions: Who will stay home with a sick child? Who will leave work early to take a child to the dentist?
Interaction with extended family and friends must be reconsidered. Family members may take sides, disrupting relationships and removing potential sources of guidance and comfort.
Everyone needs the love, security, closeness, and belonging
that comes from relationships with others. Marriage is one of
the most significant relationships. Its loss causes much of the
stress and emotional turmoil of divorce.
Not all individuals experience loss with the same intensity, in the same way, or at the same time. Some people experience loss of closeness when they realize the relationship is ending. For others, the idea of separation can be overwhelming, and they hang onto the hope that the relationship can be saved.
Other losses resulting from separation and divorce undermine a person's sense of security and well-being. Although they do not realize it, many people become attached to a way of life, a home and possessions, pets, and daily contact with children.
Divorce is a crisis that affects a person's identity. Individuals
no longer occupy the role of husband or wife. At the same time,
they must rethink changes in their roles as parents, workers,
and caretakers. People often are caught off guard by the need
to reconsider questions such as "Who am I?" and "What
do I want to do with my life?"
People develop patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that signal stress. If you are not aware of these patterns, you might ignore their signals. On the list below, check the responses you make to stressful situations.
One way to reduce stress is to take charge of your life. Here are some suggestions for ways you can regain personal control.
Remember, if your negative emotions begin to interfere with your role as a parent or employee, it may be helpful to seek support from a professional counselor or therapist.
Although individuals are different, most adults need two or three years to adapt to the changes separation and divorce bring. People who also encounter problems such as job loss or illness during this period need additional time for adjustment. For adults, this involves three basic tasks.
Individuals must accept that the marriage is over and establish
an identity that is not tied to their former spouse. For this
to occur, the individual must be convinced that there is no use
investing further in this relationship.
Former spouses must make peace with each other. This involves realizing that continued nastiness only creates more nastiness in return. Often this realization creates a more balanced view of the relationship. An individual able to forgive the former spouse for the marriage's end is able to appreciate what is good about that person.
Individuals also must recognize their part in the breakup. They must stop blaming their former spouses and examine honestly their own role in the relationship. Such self-examination includes
Individuals must establish sources of support for each of these
roles. They need to begin feeling competent as a single person
and as a single parent.
Task 3-Establishing future-oriented instead of past-oriented goals
People who are adjusting well are ready to move on. They begin to have new hobbies or leisure activities, or enter into new dating relationships. In contrast, those not ready to move on may need more time to mourn the loss of a spouse. These individuals may not have exhausted their efforts to rekindle the relationship. They may not realize that the relationship is over.
Dealing with the stress and change from a separation or divorce
is not easy. It helps to become familiar with your sources of
stress and your style of coping. Take time to think about ways
that you can take charge of your life by controlling your environment
and your anger with positive coping skills.
Realize that adjusting to divorce takes time. Be sure to pat yourself on the back occasionally as you move forward in re-establishing your life. Baby steps toward adjustment can sometimes be as significant as giant steps. The important thing is to keep moving forward .
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